We stop in the Rembrandt Square and check the GPS for directions to the Red District. This annoying giggle makes my head turn and I see this couple accompanied by some friends. They’re in their early thirties. Chubby, dark hair, loose jeans and a black leather jacket, he’s proposing, holding the open box to reveal the ring between him and her, somewhere in front of her heart and feeling so nervous and shy and hoping to disappear before getting any attention from the passers by.
No one stops and no one stares. No one seems to be noticing, actually. Except me. And I try to be discreet. She seems high and surprised and unable to escape the “Is this for real?” vs “Oh, my God!” lines she keeps bouncing between, all the time tucking her straight blond hair behind her ears as if trying to grab hold of something she’s considered real for long enough to give her some comfort. Finally, they hug. She’s now wearing the ring, waving her hand in front of her friends, in front of her own eyes, in front of his face, in front of the whole world spinning at light speed around them.
I eventually turn my back to them, giving them some privacy and feeling a little bit ashamed by my intrusive presence. We head for the Red District. Hand in hand. Our friends are having dinner somewhere.
“No pot, no alcohol… Why have you come to Amsterdam?” one of them inquires on the lawn by the Van Gogh museum while passing the joint to another one in the group.
“I’m in a religious sect, I told you. I don’t eat meat, either…” I answer sarcastically. Keeping a secret feels delicious. Yet, I do feel like an alien.
I’m an alien, I’m a legal alien, I’m Dana in Amsterdam in the spring of 2017.
I’ve loved Van Gogh for as long as I can remember. And now, in the Van Gogh museum, I feel this distance between myself and everything that he used to represent for me. I am out of the valley of the shadow and doubt, out of the weeping song, out of the dark era. I am grateful for everything that was and everything I have learnt from the hard journey through all that.
The overcrowded city is so relaxed and so mentally blurred no one seems to know exactly what’s happening to them. They all seem to be wondering around like headless chicken. I used to be like that. Ten years ago or so this place would have seemed like heaven. Now… well, now I’m just enjoying the boat ride along the beautiful canals and a tasty dinner in an Italian restaurant. The Red District is too noisy and too sad. The girls are so beautiful and so wrought they awaken motherly instincts (?!) in me and a kind of exaggerated compassion on the fringes of love.
Our hotel, with its almost vertical staircase, is convenient enough. The big windows overlooking the main street make me suggest organizing a peep show for the passers by and the neighbors across. We push the two small beds together as soon as we arrive and pull the curtains in a rush.
“Have you got any non-alcoholic beer?” I almost whisper and blush as the waiter stares at me in disbelief. “Ok, don’t worry, just get me some water.” I add, giving up.
“Do you wanna go? I want to get more drinks? Can we stay longer?” my friend asks.
“Are you kidding? I’ve still got so much water in my glass. And if you dare me, I bet I can have one more!” I answer and we both laugh.
It’s her birthday. Last year we celebrated it in Istanbul. A life-changing experience. This year it’s Amsterdam. This is why I am here now. For her. Not for the pot or the drinks or the hooker spotting. Not even for the experience. And it’s all over so soon as we each head back to her own life and resume where we left off.